Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has asked if Algeria would grant him asylum and has been told it would, if certain conditions are met, the French newspaper Le Monde reported Friday.
A State Department official said that the United States had asked Algeria about the report, but President Bush said later in the day that the Algerian government had denied it. In London, the British Broadcasting Corp. also said the Algerian Foreign Office had denied the Le Monde story.Le Monde said Saddam used unspecified channels on Wednesday to put forward the request to Algeria.
It said the Algerians agreed, providing two conditions would be met: The new Iraqi leadership must have no objection, and the coalition allied against Iraq must not assert the right to make Saddam accountable for war crimes or reparations, Le Monde said in its front-page report.
It said Algeria received assurances on that point from the allies.
The major French daily quoted "good Algerian sources" on what had transpired. Algeria is a former colony of France.
Le Monde said Saddam was bitter over being "cut loose" by the Soviet Union, an apparent reference to Moscow's failure to persuade the allies to accept a peace plan that would have left Saddam in power with an unshattered military force.
"If Saddam did decide to leave, Algeria is one of a handful of places that might be willing to take him," said one U.S. official who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Furthermore, Algeria is far from Israel, making it a better choice for exile than Yemen or Sudan, Le Monde noted. Iraq fired nearly 40 Scud missiles at Israel since the war broke out Jan. 17, and Israel has repeatedly vowed retaliation at a time and in a manner of its choosing.
Le Monde said that even as Saddam seeks asylum elsewhere, he is still trying to cling to power in Iraq.